Roy McIlroy ranked at No. 3 in the world returned back to action after a three week break. In an attempt to put behind the mental block of his swing which had popped up during the Masters, he after the break is back to defend his title in the Wells Fargo Championship.
Before he began his inward nine, McIlroy checked his brain at the tee and let loose. The result? A 33 to polish off a 1-over-par 73 that kept him within striking distance of the leaders.
“It sort of was a tale of two nines,” said McIlroy, who shot 21-under 267 to win here last year and also won his first Tour title here in 2010. “I’ve been working a lot on the range and I was sort of still in range mode on the front nine there. I didn’t really have my scoring head on. I was thinking about my golf swing and just trying to make good swings at it and I sort of got caught up in that a little bit.
“So I said to myself on the front nine (he started on the back nine), ‘OK, let’s try to play with a little more freedom and maybe not think so much technically,’ so it seemed to help. … I definitely would have taken 73 standing on the first tee. Just a matter of doing some work and coming out tomorrow and hopefully being a little more ready to score and play golf rather than just think about my swing on the course.”
Playing partners Steve Wheatcroft and Andrew Loupe had no problems with their swings as they each shot 65 to share the lead. Wheatcroft made eagles on the fifth and 10th hole while Loupe was bogey-free.
Anirban Lahiri shot 66. Rickie Fowler, who won here in 2012, shot 71. Jim Furyk shot 73 in his first round in eight months following wrist surgery. And Phil Mickelson, who has eight top-10s in the event without winning, shot 69.
“We had a blast,” said Loupe, who also played with Johnson Wagner. “We had a good pairing to start. Wheaty’s a great guy, so is Johnson. Both funny dudes just keeping it light out there. Also nice to have the entire group have a lot of momentum. Like Johnson ended up with even par, but he played far better than that. We just kind of pushed each other out there.
“I really just felt like I was trying to keep up the whole time. I figured we can just keep that momentum rolling into tomorrow.”
Mickelson is looking forward, as well, as he bounced back after missing his last two cuts in the Masters and Valero Texas Open.
“I’m just kind of brushing them off because those two crazy rounds that I had happened to follow my two best warm‑up sessions of the year,” Mickelson said. “I went back home and had a great week of practice. I was hitting it a lot better this past week than I showed today, and I feel as though these next three days I can strike it a lot better, play a lot better and shoot lower scores than I did today, and I’m not disappointed with today’s round.”
McIlroy is hoping to match the forecast, which calls for warming temperatures to saturate the area starting Friday afternoon. He wouldn’t mind matching history, either. When he won in 2010 he came from 10 shots behind on the weekend. Last year he shot 61-69 on the weekend en route to victory.
McIlroy, who is trying to keep the clubface square longer through impact, knew he’d be cold at the outset of his return to competitive golf.
“I knew I was going to have to sort of play my way into the next couple of weeks,” he said. “With the nine holes that I played on Tuesday and the pro‑am yesterday, I felt, it actually feels pretty good. But it’s always different when you get a scorecard in your hand and it really matters.
“I just need to go out tomorrow and shoot a good second round, something in the 60s. I wasn’t very happy with how I played today but I’m happy with my comeback, and at least I showed a little bit of character out there and didn’t let it get away from me.”